by Farmer Lee Jones
At its essence, collaborating with someone else means you’re working with him or her to create something. In the world of business, when members of your team collaborate, this can help you innovate faster to better accomplish goals.
Before I get into more detail about the benefits of collaborating at work, I can’t resist pointing out that my father has been touting this for decades. Here’s how he phrases it: “None of us,” he says, “is as smart as all of us.”
Now, although there are many definitions of collaboration that are fancier or more in-depth than his, none cuts to the chase quite like his saying.
Four Collaboration Benefits
First, when members of your team collaborate, they tend to enjoy what they’re doing—and it’s a tenet of Psychology 101 that, when people are having fun doing something, they’re much more likely to keep on going.
Take, for example, when our team is harvesting lettuce in the spring. Because we hand harvest, a group of people walk the fields as they look for signs that the first crop of the season is ready to be harvested.
As they watch for signs, they enjoy simply being out in the sun, occasionally pausing to lift their faces to its warmth as they laugh and banter. When someone finds the first lettuce of the season that’s at its peak, he might gently harvest it and then lift it over his head so that all can celebrate as a natural part of collaboration in the fields.
If your employees work in an office or an assembly line, collaboration may look quite different—but, if they’re enjoying what they’re doing together, your company is much more likely to be successful.
This is a natural outgrowth of enjoyment. For example, if your human resource team is hard at work during open enrollment season, they might notice that one particular team member is getting employees to respond more quickly. In a non-collaborative environment, that might not be noticed, at all—or, if it is, it might create feelings of envy or resentment.
In a collaborative environment, though, other team members can become inspired by what they see, and they might ask for tips and strategies to make their own work more efficient.
Now let’s say that you run a packaging business. The team that does the actual packaging gets along well, enjoys working together, and freely shares ideas on how to make work more efficient.
That’s great, right? It is—but, sometimes, all the idea sharing in the world isn’t enough if the workload is simply too great.
That’s what happens to us during the last week of the year, our busiest time of year as chefs plan menus for large numbers of people ringing in the new year. In that case, we invite people from other teams at the farm to chip in, including people who typically work in offices.
Is it easy to switch jobs that quickly? Not necessarily. In fact, one person on our marketing team put it this way: “Asking a first-time novice to scissor-snip a tote full of micro-arugula is like asking a kindergartner for a haircut the day before prom. Talk about pressure.”
Having said that, in a collaborative environment, people are willing to teach one another how to do new jobs. And, for three days, the office team harvested in our greenhouses—and, not only did that allow us to ship product on time, people who normally work in offices gained a whole new appreciation of the harvesting team. In fact, many of them now consider one another as friends.
When you can count on your team to help each another do their best work, perhaps but not necessarily through cross training, you can save money. A collaborative atmosphere naturally fosters an environment where you can discover which team members have unique areas of expertise that can help your business to run even more efficiently and effectively—and then you can benefit financially from that. In fact, one Deloitte study found that the increased productivity found in a collaborative workplace saves a company $1,600 per employee annually.
Conversely, a non-collaborative work environment can cost a company big bucks. According to UpChain.com, a lack of collaboration costs small businesses $208,000 annually and, as companies get bigger, the costs of that lack of collaboration go up.
Creating a Collaborative Workplace
Like almost any other aspect of business success, collaboration begins at the top. When your employees see their managers having a collaborative attitude, they’re much more likely to want to join in.
Plus, managers and supervisors must clearly communicate the “why” of the jobs assigned. Let’s say, for example, that some of your employees repeatedly put the same part into the same slot, hour after hour, day after day. In that case, it may be difficult for them to continue to feel inspired. The same is true if we simply said, “Hey, go pick a tomato. Now go pick another tomato. Now, another one.”
But, when you share why these tasks are important, perspectives can quickly change. For example, let’s say your employees are assembling at-home medical monitoring devices that can help older adults and other shut-ins to manage their health conditions. In that case, the “why” of it all can be to improve the quality of life for people all across the country.
In our case, the “why” of hand picking a tomato is that hand harvesting is part of our overall regenerative farming philosophy where we grow vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature. We don’t use industrial tractors and we don’t pick produce and store it. We’re farming, instead, like our ancestors did 100 years ago in an environmentally friendly manner, harvesting upon order.
Once the “why” of tasks are clearly communicated, mindsets can transform into highly successful collaborative ones!